Campus & Community

Putt, putt, putting green to work

3 min read

Harvard staffer gets sustainability mileage out of his commute

Every day, every week, and all year — rain or shine — Adams House dining hall general manager David A. Seley commutes to Harvard on a moped.

He has a fleet of nine of the lightweight motorized bicycles in his Woburn (Mass.) garage, many of them rescued from the trash. Behind Adams House one day, he showed off his restored Batavus HS50 — cherry red, with a slim one-gallon tank and a slender silver engine. It weighs 75 pounds and gets 170 mpg.

Seley’s 110-mile weekly commute uses less than a gallon of fuel. Each leg takes 30 minutes — “shorter than a car,” he said, “and much shorter than the bus.”

The five-year Harvard staffer has bought and registered more than 600 mopeds since 1972, and has run up half a million moped miles, including a trip from New York City to Key West, Fla.

Though not a member, he identifies with a loosely confederated national group called Moped Army, and on most Wednesdays he meets local riders for a collective run. “We know we are different,” said Seley, who dons a snowmobiling suit for winter rides, “and we celebrate that.”

Commuting on a little pedal-fitted bike used to earn him more incredulity than admiration. Then came $4-per-gallon gas. “Overnight,” said Seley, “I went from nutcase to visionary.”

Mopeds are inexpensive to buy, easy to fix, and require no insurance or license plates. (In Massachusetts, they cost $20 a year to register.) Riders use the bicycle lane and park at bike racks. But what appeals most to Seley are the moped’s environmental benefits.

Factor in mileage, maintenance, parts, and cost of manufacture and you get green transportation, said Seley — even despite particulates from the two-stroke engines. His entire fleet of nine mopeds, he said, has a carbon footprint “less than one-tenth of a car.”

Moped commuting “gives me economic and environmental excellence,” he noted — as well as the freedom to see more, to sense more, and to slow down during rush hour.

For those who live closer to work, added Seley, a greener commute might simply involve walking or riding a bike. “We all have to find our balance,” he said. “My real hope is to get people thinking about how they get here.”

Seley, a one-time pre-med student at New York University who grew up in Manhattan, is more than just the moped guy. He learned the food business at a Westchester County resort and dude ranch, drove part time at harness racing tracks, and for 13 years co-owned a corporate food service.

At Adams House — where he and a staff of 26 deliver 1,200 meals a day — Seley produces two student plays a year and (at age 54) plays goalie for the House hockey team.

He has also spread his green wings, taking charge of recycling and composting for Harvard University Dining Services at large events, where recovery rates are close to 90 percent — double the national average.

That’s dramatic, personal, and important, said Seley — not unlike, he added, “the green commute.”